The task only gets harder for the undefeated Orlando Magic, who are set for a back-to-back at Los Angeles this week with the first game of the pair on Monday against the Lakers.
The Magic have two victories in two games, and while the wins did not exactly come against a pair of NBA powers, Orlando has been able to do what has been asked of it so far.
After winning their season opener on Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets, the Magic went on the road for the first time Friday and pulled off a 102-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Franz Wagner scored 23 points in the victory for Orlando, while Cole Anthony added 18 off the bench. Moritz Wagner also delivered from the bench with 17 points.
“I feel like as a player, I’ve come a long way,” said Anthony, who is in his second straight season as a bench player after starting 65 games in 2021-22. “I feel like I’m going to make good decisions. I feel like I can control the game. It’s also (good) to have that trust put in me.”
The Magic won with Paolo Banchero scoring a modest 14 points, with an average of 13.0 in two games. The Orlando defense did its part, holding the Blazers to 17 fourth-quarter points and 28.6 percent shooting in the final period.
“I think it’s the easiest way to play — is play amazing defense, get out and run and get free looks,” Orlando’s Jalen Suggs told NBA.com.
Expect that Magic defense to test the legs of the Lakers, who enter off Sunday’s 132-127 overtime defeat on the road against the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers forced overtime by outscoring the Kings 60-49 in the second half.
Los Angeles appeared to run out of gas, allowing Sacramento to score 17 points in the five-minute extra period.
The Lakers’ stars did what they could, with Anthony Davis scoring 30 points with 16 rebounds and LeBron James adding 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Davis played 42 minutes, while James was on the court for 39.
The intention of Los Angeles coach Darvin Ham was to try and reduce James’ minutes for preservation purposes, but the 38-year-old has played at least 35 minutes in two of the first three games this season. He averaged 35.5 minutes last season.
“Obviously I don’t want to run (James) into the ground, I don’t want to run (Davis) into the ground too early,” Ham said. “It was an overtime game and they’re playing at a high level, so you want to leave them out there.”
Of concern for the Lakers is guard Austin Reaves, who scored five points in 28 minutes Sunday on 1-of-12 shooting. Reaves has averaged 9.7 points on 30.0 percent shooting and played just three minutes in the fourth quarter as the Lakers rallied, and he did not see any action in overtime.
“My rotation, we have to really dig into that and really take a close look so that guys are in rhythm,” Ham said after the defeat. “We have a great collection of players. I played in this league and when you know when you’re going in and who you’re playing with, that matters.”